Josh Dunkley had a decision to make, for most of this year. Sydney, or the draft? The draft, or Sydney? The Swans, or somewhere – anywhere – else? "I left it right up to the last day and almost right up to the last minute," said Dunkley, who nominated as a father-son player then became a Western Bulldog when Sydney didn't match their bid for him on draft night. "I gave it a lot of thought but in the end, none of it really mattered."
Dunkley was watching the draft at home in Yarram with his family when his name was called, and at first wasn't sure where he would be playing next year. He had signed on with the Swans knowing the players, knowing the coaches and believing he would fit in well there, having spent four weeks at his father's club in the last year.
He had spoken to enough other clubs to know they were interested in him, but he couldn't be sure how strong that interest was or whether they would definitely pick him. "I knew anything could happen," he said. "And that made me a bit nervous. But I knew that either way, as long as someone picked me, I was going to end up happy."
On the night, Dunkley watched Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge step on stage at the Adelaide convention centre and start saying his name. But the words "Josh" and "Dunkley" didn't come up on the screen until after Beveridge had gone and sat back down, shaking his head, so Dunkley wasn't sure whether Sydney had matched their bid, or whether he had just become a Bulldogs player. He knew, from what they had told him, that the Swans would make their mind up once they knew how many points they had to come up with to get him, under the new bidding system. But had they matched? Or had they left him go?
It was confusing, then exciting. "It was a weird feeling and it's hard to explain. It was up in the air and then the draft just moved on. I didn't know whether I was going to Sydney or coming here, but then my name came up next to the Bulldogs and that was it," Dunkley said. "It was a strange few seconds, but then it was amazing."
Dunkley had a good time whenever he went up to see the Swans, and would have happily played there. The idea of playing closer to home had always appealed to him, but he would also have gone to another state with a smile on his face if that was how things turned out.
"If I went interstate, Sydney was going to be a good option because I know people at the club and because they're a proud club and a good club," he said. "I'm happy I've stayed here, but if I'd gone to Sydney or Perth or Adelaide it would have been good too and I'd still be the same person I am now. My dream was always just to get on an AFL list. All I wanted was a chance to get through the door and get straight to work and start doing everything I can to make myself a better player."
He's already started. Dunkley has made it through his first few full training sessions in the past week, his time with the Richmond VFL team last season helping him feel ready for the things that would be asked of him, off the field and within sessions. "Even at training today, we were doing structure stuff and team defence, and I feel like I learnt a lot of that last year," the midfielder said. "It's a good start, at least, to have that experience and be able to carry it into this environment."
Dunkley has a little place in history now, as the first player a club chose not to match a bid for. But he was also the Bulldogs' first selection, and that's what matters most. "I can take that with me and use it to make myself a better player," he said. "It was a hard decision and a long decision, but I get to stay close to home and I suppose I have the chance now to build my own career. It's worked out well. It was always going to work out well if I got on a list at the Swans or anywhere else, but I like being here. I couldn't be happier to be here."